Los Angeles Rams: Can Cam Akers Return to Form After Achilles Tear?

by Blaine Grisak
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When it comes to injuries in the NFL, there are two that nobody wants to see. Those are a torn ACL and a torn Achilles. However, when it comes to the two injuries, there is one that is very much worse than the other – the torn Achilles. This is why there is so much uncertainty when it comes to Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers and his recent Achilles tear.

Cam Akers tearing his Achilles was devastating news for Los Angeles Rams fans. Not only was this a young, promising player and fan favorite, he was also primed for a big season. After tearing his Achilles, there’s really no guarantee we get the same Cam Akers. In a sense, you almost prefer that he tore his ACL.

A Devastating Injury For Cam Akers

Achilles tears to elite athletes such as Kobe Bryant and DeMarcus Cousins in the NBA completely changed their effectiveness. Even Kevin Durant saw some effect of his Achilles tear this season. Bryant’s arguably ended his career early. Dez Bryant in the NFL tore his Achilles and has struggled to get on a team since. Richard Sherman returned after his Achilles tear, but hasn’t been the same shutdown corner that he once was.

While some players do return to form like left tackle Jason Peters, there’s no guarantee that’s the case. Cam Akers also plays the running back position which is already a position with a short career length. It’s a position that also has a relatively low positional value which means it’s easily replaceable.

It’s easy to be in denial and think that Cam Akers will be different than other athletes who have fallen victim to this devastating injury. However, scientific studies and history state otherwise. Hopefully, at just 22, Akers will be able to return as the running back that he was late in his rookie season for the Los Angeles Rams.

History is Bleak

Not to be Mr. Doom and Gloom, but while the Achilles injury might not end Akers’ career, there’s no guarantee that he returns as the same player for the Los Angeles. It’s very possible that he loses at least some of his burst and agility.

The running back position was already one with a short life span. Now, there’s no guarantee that Akers is able to play late into his 20s and early 30s. We simply don’t know. This is a big reason why this injury is so scary. People are afraid of the unknown.

One of the biggest issues is that there isn’t really a true apples to apples comparison even if we look at running backs who have torn their Achilles within the last two decades.

LenDale White

Like Cam Akers, LenDale White was drafted in the second round of 2006 NFL Draft. White impressed in his second year amassing an 1100 yard season. He followed it up with a 773 yard season with 15 touchdowns in 2008.

After a disappointing 2009, White was traded to the Seattle Seahawks. After a failed drug test, the Seahawks cut him and he signed with the Denver Broncos. White tore his Achilles in the preseason and never played another NFL snap. The former USC running back was clearly talented as a second round pick, and at 26, was in his prime. However, he also seemed to be on his way out of the league being on his third team within a calendar year.

Mikel LeShoure

Like Akers, Mikel Leshoure was also a second round pick. Leshoure was selected in the second round by the Detroit Lions in 2011 like Cam Akers. Prior to his rookie season, LeShoure tore his Achilles in training camp, forcing him to miss the entire year.

He bounced back from  and had an impressive second season with 798 yards and nine touchdowns. However, he was cut in the following training camp and never played another snap in the NFL. Even with the injury occurring at the young age of 21 years old, Leshoure didn’t last long after. He clearly had talent as the 57th overall pick, but it might be fair to ask if he lost some of his effectiveness even two years later.

Beanie Wells

Wells was seen as one of the most talented running backs in the 2009 NFL Draft. So much so, the Arizona Cardinals selected him with the 31st overall pick. Wells burst onto the scene with a 793 yard rookie season and added seven touchdowns. Two years later he had a 1,000 yard season, rushing for 1,047 yards and ten touchdowns.

In a workout with the Ravens in 2013 after being cut by the Cardinals, Wells tore his Achilles and never played another snap in the NFL. He was just 26 and still in his prime when the injury occurred. While he may have been trending towards being out of the league, the injury solidified it.

Arian Foster

Despite going undrafted, Arian Foster was one of the best running backs in the NFL in his prime. Foster rushed for 1,000 yards in four out of five seasons between 2010 and 2014. After rushing for 1,246 yards in 2014, Foster tore his Achilles early in the 2015 season. The Texans cut him the next offseason and he he rushed for 22 yards with the Miami Dolphins before retiring in 2016.

Foster’s injury occurred at 29 years old which is typically the end of the lifespan for a running back. However, the injury likely shortened his career by a few years. This was someone who was one of the best running backs in the NFL and a top talent at the position.

D’onta Foreman

Foreman was drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. Forman showed promise during his rookie season, rushing for 328 yards in a split backfield and averaged 4.2 yards per carry. He unfortunately tore his Achilles late in the 2017 season. Foreman was still recovering from the injury in 2018 and then was cut in 2019. The Texans cited poor work habits and being late to team meetings.

The former Texans running back rushed for 95 yards last season with the Titans. It’s worth considering that the injury stopped early momentum to Foreman’s career. He was trending toward taking the starting job from veteran Lamar Miller during the latter stages of his rookie year before the Achilles tear. It might be fair to consider that the rehab process was difficult for him, causing him to develop bad work habits. He hasn’t been the same running back since. His injury occurred at just 21 years of age.

Marlon Mack

We’ll see Mack’s effectiveness heading into this season, but with Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines as the top two running backs in the Colts backfield, the future doesnt look bright for Mack. A former fourth round pick, Mack had 1,000 yards in 2019 and then tore his Achilles in Week 1 of last season.

Mack was 24 at the time of the injury, therefore still very young. Rams fans should keep an eye on Mack this season.

The Rest

Andre Brown – 4th round
Earnest Graham – undrafted
Kendall Hunter – 4th round
Vick Ballard – 5th Round
Joe McKnight – 4th Round
Branden Oliver – undrafted
Isaiah Crowell – undrafted

A lot of these players on this list are day three players or undrafted players that might have been out of the league anyway without the injury. The injury might have just expedited the process. Earnest Graham had an 898 yard season three years before his injury, but was also 31 when the injury occurred.

Of the rest of these players, only Branden Oliver and Isaiah Crowell had 500+ yard seasons. Oliver’s best season came two years before his injury, but never signed with another team after he was cut by the Chargers.

Isaiah Crowell was an undrafted free agent and therefore not as talented as Akers, but he did have five straight 600 yard seasons. After rushing for 685 yards and six touchdowns with the New York Jets, Crowell signed with the Raiders.

He tore his Achilles in minicamp and never played another snap in the NFL. He was just 26 years old. On his third team in three years, Crowell might have been trending on his way out anyway, but again, the injury made sure of that.

What to Expect for Cam Akers

Unfortunately, there’s not a true apples to apples comparison for Akers and the Los Angeles Rams. The young players who also had the high draft capital might have been on their way out of the league anyway.

One study in 2017 looked at Achille tears in the NFL between 2010 and 2015. The study found that:

78 Achilles tendon ruptures were identified in professional football players during the 2010-2015 NFL seasons. 58% of these injuries occurred during the preseason. Of those that suffered an Achilles tendon rupture, 26% did not ever return to play in the NFL. Players who did return to play in the NFL took an average of 9 months to recover after the date of injury. Across all positions, there was a net decrease in power ratings by 22% and a net decrease in approximate value by 23% over 3 years following player return after Achilles tendon rupture. Across all positions, running backs saw the biggest decrease in production with a 78% decrease over 3 years post-injury in both power ratings and approximate value.

The biggest concern there is that running backs saw the biggest decrease in production with a 78% decrease over three years post-injury in both power ratings and approximate value. That doesn’t bode well from a scientific or historical standpoint for Akers.

The bright side is that the study also found that more players are returning to play after injury and with better post-injury performance as compared to the previous two decades. However, it is still considered a career-altering injury.

This is also concerning for Akers given his injury history over the last calendar year. The Los Angeles Rams running back missed four games early in the season due to a rib cartilage injury. He then sprained his ankle late in the year, forcing him to miss a game.  The injury prone label is an unfair one, but it’s a question that needs to be brought up.

That’s especially the case when Achilles injuries can often lead to future injuries down the line due to overcompensation of other parts of the body.

Through two seasons, Akers will have played in 13 out of a possible 36+ games. That’s not good when it comes to the running back position, a position that takes quite a few hits.

It’s impossible to know without knowing what ankle the Achilles tear happened, but it’s possible that the ankle sprain and Achilles tear are related. However, that is pure speculation.

Conclusion

The fact of the matter is while some Los Angeles Rams fans can have hope that Cam Akers will return as the same running back or better, others will point to the bleak history of the injury and say that his career is over. In all likelihood, the answer is somewhere in the middle.

As heartbreaking as it would be, it’s possible that Akers does return, but is not the same running back as he showed late in the season last year. It’s also possible that he does return to form, but his career is cut short.

Hopefully Cam Akers returns to the player that Rams fans grew to love during his rookie year. However, to do that, he’ll need to defy the odds.

 

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